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"My Friend the Portabello" by Robert Lalasz


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My article on trying to eat vegetarian at high-end DC restaurants ("My Friend the Portabello") has just been published in the March issue of Washingtonian. It's also online at my website.

At the end of the web version, I've also included the sidebar of quotes Washingtonian collected from DC chefs such as Gillian Clark, Frank Ruta, Eric Zeibold, and others, reacting to Anthony Bourdain's infamous Kitchen Confidential quote slamming vegheads as a "persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn."

I'm interested in your thoughts, criticisms, empathy, and/or hostility. The piece is personal, with a tone of smiling through tears; it's neither an economic analysis nor an exhaustive survey. But my core argument is that DC's high-end chefs are well behind the national curve when it comes to serving vegetarians. In major urban centers such as DC, one out of every 20 people is a vegetarian, and many more would like interesting meatless options on occasion. But the sparse menu offerings for us here (when we're offered anything at all) are routine and unimaginative. Of course there are plenty of great ethnic restaurants for veggies to go to, but we're basically shut out of White Tablecloth Land and the artistry and venues this board often buzzes about. As I say in the piece, I no longer go to fancy DC restaurants (with the exception of Komi and Ray's the Steaks, of all places) for the food.

My impressions of the meatless tasting menus at CityZen, Restaurant Eve, and 2941 as well as Vegetate and Viridian are included in the piece. Except for 2941, I was underwhelmed.

Anyway, I'm eager to know what you think I got right and what I missed, and whether veggies should have a place at the big table (instead of the kids'). I doubt that you could top Gillian Clark's contempt for my kind, but I'm ready for that, too.

Thanks,

Bob Lalasz

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You appear to have said something less than idolatrous about Restaurant Eve. Blasphemer! Your sentence: Banishment to the innermost circle of Hell -- perpetual hold on the Ray's reservations line.

I enjoyed the piece. I have a mechanical question about your approach to eating out. Do you verify that apparently vegetarian dishes not explicitly labeled as such do not include animal products, such as chicken stock, lard, or the like? I know some vegetarians who, um, eat first and ask questions later in such (presumably recurring and vexing) situations.

(To answer the question you pose: Of course vegetarians deserve a place at the big table. My wife and I recently took a trip to India, where vegetarians not only receive a place at the big table: They often constitute the entire table. When it's part of the culture, inconvenienced chefs somehow adjust.)

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Welcome, Bob - I had heard you were coming. Your article was well-written and very entertaining!

Part of your piece keys on area high-end kitchens - you mentioned Restaurant Eve, CityZen, and 2941 - but you didn't mention the vegetarian tasting menus at Gerard's Place, Citronelle, Maestro, or Inn at Little Washington. Have you tried them, and what did you think?

How about this argument (just to stir things up): you mention that 5% of all diners are vegetarian, but I'd counter that at least 5% of all main courses are vegetarian - for example, the Vegetable Blue Plate at Vidalia, or the Melange of Seasonal Vegetables at Corduroy - and at least 10% of first courses. In fact the other day I was feeling primal and carnivorous, and groused that seven out of ten first courses at Corduroy were from the ocean, and the other three were vegetarian. Whazza problem? Is it because this ratio often limits you to one main course per restaurant? Are the majority of vegetarian plates at white-tablecloth restaurants really just piles of chopped carrots and sliced potatoes?

There's always wine.

Rocks

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You appear to have said something less than idolatrous about Restaurant Eve.  Blasphemer!  Your sentence: Banishment to the innermost circle of Hell -- perpetual hold on the Ray's reservations line.

I enjoyed the piece.  I have a mechanical question about your approach to eating out.  Do you verify that apparently vegetarian dishes not explicitly labeled as such do not include animal products, such as chicken stock, lard, or the like?  I know some vegetarians who, um, eat first and ask questions later in such (presumably recurring and vexing) situations.

(To answer the question you pose: Of course vegetarians deserve a place at the big table.  My wife and I recently took a trip to India, where vegetarians not only receive a place at the big table: They often constitute the entire table.  When it's part of the culture, inconvenienced chefs somehow adjust.)

Yes, I'm taking my chances with the Church of Restaurant Eve. On the other hand, I'm effusive in my praise of Ray's portabello with spicy diablo sauce. (Michael told me in an interview that he serves about three a month.)

I do verify--but always key in most waitstaff to my peculiar condition first, to which they usually respond helpfully. At Ceiba recently, they told me I could have the black bean soup without the ham croquette, which was appreciated. Unfortunately, the bowl still arrived with croquette, and I had to stop the waiter in mid-pour. (I almost didn't notice it, because of course they hold a napkin between you and the bowl to prevent splattering. That seemed like the closest I'll ever get to eating ortolan.)

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Great article! "White Tablecloth Land" is someplace a vegetarian is not welcome. I often feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, "I have money to spend here!" with the restaurant telling me there is nothing here for me. One way I go around it is to just order a carnivore's entree and have them put the meat on the side. I then wrap up the meat/fish for my dogs & cats. Most restaurants refuse to reduce the price of an entree if the meat/fish is left out, and my critters are all the happier. I've always enjoyed Michael Landrum's posts on this board, and so wanted to experience his restaurant. I like him even more now that I know he offers a veg entree. I'll have to start dialing now!

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A common feature of discussions of vegetarians in restaurants is that they depart the realm of business and cooking for the land of "ought."

That it is good business to cater to vegetarians is, to an extent, for the market to decide. There is already movement towards greater variety and and quality in acarnivorous cooking, we'll see how far it goes. If there really is more pent-up veggo-demand, someone will figure how to tap it. If there's more smoke than fire on this particular grill, then choices will remain limited. We'll see.

That vegetarian cooking is often unimaginitive and trite is virtually inarguable, though that is a failing that extends into the realm of omnivority. My next article is titled "My Friend the Tuna Carpaccio." Again, if people demand creative vegetarian cooking (by ordering it, not by writing about it) chefs will get the message soon enough.

But, the argument that restaurants "ought" to serve vegetarian food is prima facie absurd -- any more than they "ought" to have any other category of cooking on the menu: vegan, Tandoori, Atkins "sanwiches" or raw food...whatever. And while I dislike chefs who are so convinced of their own genius that they refuse to change a sauce stroke of their edible masterpieces, asking for a special order in the middle of busy service is a asking a good deal.

I read the article more as a frustrated rant (and also to get ideas for when my friend Beth comes over; her article: "My Friend Charles and His Goddam Portabellos") more than a cry of entitlement, and enjoyed it. But the fact is, most vegetarians have chosen to become vegetarians. If that limits their dining, it's not our problem.

That being said, I would like to see more and better vegetarian offerings, on general principal, and I think a little more attention from a few more chefs could start a virtuous (though, let us not get into a discussion of whether or not vegeterians are more virtuous) circle: better vegetables, more demand, more attention, better vegetables....

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Welcome, Bob - I had heard you were coming.  Your article was well-written and very entertaining!

Part of your piece keys on area high-end kitchens - you mentioned Restaurant Eve, CityZen, and 2941 - but you didn't mention the vegetarian tasting menus at Gerard's Place, Citronelle, Maestro, or Inn at Little Washington.  Have you tried them, and what did you think? 

How about this argument (just to stir things up):  you mention that 5% of all diners are vegetarian, but I'd counter that at least 5% of all main courses are vegetarian - for example, the Vegetable Blue Plate at Vidalia, or the Melange of Seasonal Vegetables at Corduroy - and at least 10% of first courses.  In fact the other day I was feeling primal and carnivorous, and groused that seven out of ten first courses at Corduroy were from the ocean, and the other three were vegetarian.  Whazza problem?  Is it because this ratio often limits you to one main course per restaurant?  Are the majority of vegetarian plates at white-tablecloth restaurants really just piles of chopped carrots and sliced potatoes?

There's always wine.

Rocks

Don, thanks for the kind words about the piece. To answer directly--no, I haven't had tried those tasting menus. In my defense, only one of those restaurant's websites (Maestro) advertises a vegetarian tasting menu. A vegetarian develops a cringing posture after years of not being fed well at high-end restaurants--you start not to look, to avoid yet more disappointment, yet another instance of exclusion. I regret not knowing about Maestro and look forward to enjoying their Colors of the Garden menu.

On the other hand--speaking of sacrilege--one of the points I make in the piece is that tasting menus are not enough for people that don't have enough interesting things to eat on the regular menu. It's not sustainable and a bit unfair to ask people that you're not taking care of in the usual ways to pay a premium to eat at your establishment, often forcing everyone at your table to also choose a tasting menu. I also think that most tasting menus are inhumane in scale, but I realize that might be hotly disputed by foodies.

Your argument about 5 percent of the population versus 10 percent of the menu seems apples and oranges (or pick your nonmeat metaphor) to me. The issues are threefold: 1) There's usually only one entree for me to eat; 2) It's almost always the same damn thing; and 3) It's not up to the artistic/culinary standards of the rest of the menu. The four dishes I encounter almost exclusively are: portobello mushrooms, pasta stuffed with baby food, the vegetable plate, and risotto. It's maddening. As Jonathan Krinn says in the piece, if you can't cook with vegetables, you suck. Well, there's a fair amount of, if not suckitude, mediocrity coming out of DC high-end kitchens for vegheads. Eating at Komi for the first time was a revelation.

I understand there are economics involved in devoting two entrees to meatless dishes. In that case, chefs should change it up frequently with the one veg entree.

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The issues are threefold: 1) There's usually only one entree for me to eat; 2) It's almost always the same damn thing; and 3) It's not up to the artistic/culinary standards of the rest of the menu. The four dishes I encounter almost exclusively are: portobello mushrooms, pasta stuffed with baby food, the vegetable plate, and risotto. It's maddening.

I have a long-term solution to all societal problems: more restaurants should begin offering entrees using vegetables as the primary component, and the protein as the secondary component. This would result in 1) lower costs; 2) healthier eating; 3) more creative cooking; 4) an easier transition to accomodate those meat-rejecting, whale-saving, bicycle-riding, backpack-toting, tie-dye-wearing, nose-picking, commie-loving, guitar-strumming, pie-in-the-sky hippie-maggots like you.

Cheers!

Rocks.

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My initial reading of the article left me with the impression of a whining 5 year old and resulted in the magazine being tossed across the room. The second reading this morning left a slightly more favorable impression. I liked the reviews, but the back story turned me off.

You self-selected into a tiny minority (5%) and found a minority -- 2941, Asia Nora and Komi -- of fancy restaurants, probably about 5%, that serve your needs. So what's the problem? My thoughts run mainly to "You made your bed, now lie in it".

It's as if I decided I would only eat chicken and then got pissed that so few restaurants did it well (and few do).

(That’s another thing about vegetarian food: There’s never any backstory. There’s never a thrilling vignette about how your tofu was slow-cooked for hours until it fell off the bone or how your chickpeas were raised wild on a Texas preserve and then hunted with a blowgun.)

:lol: How about this?

PS- Where do you get off calling Ray's a fancy place? :huh:

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You self-selected into a tiny minority (5%) and found a minority -- 2941, Asia Nora and Komi -- of fancy restaurants, probably about 5%, that serve your needs. So what's the problem? My thoughts run mainly to  "You made your bed, now lie in it".

Perfectly stated. As someone else has said on this thread, market need will bear out more acceptance. Perhaps someone should bankroll a primarily vegetarian white tablecloth establishment.
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Bob -

I really enjoyed your article! My husband's a vegetarian and I'm a carnivore, and your article really echoed our experiences. What frustrates me is that I love going to white tablecloth restaurants, but I'm effectively shut out of the restaurants that don't have any vegetarian options because most of the time, I'm dining with my spouse. For example, I've wanted to try Palena, but I'm not aware that they serve any vegetarian entrees so I haven't been able to go. I did manage to go to Citronelle and Marcel's when my spouse was not available, and I'd love to go back again but when it comes time to pick a white tablecloth restaurant, I choose one that has something for my spouse to eat. (And, like you, I was unaware that Citronelle offered any vegetarian options -- neither the website menu nor the menu I received when I dined there had any vegetarian options.) I'd also like my husband to love restaurants and restaurant food as much as I do. Not to be completely negative -- my husband enjoyed the Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve, Laboratorio at Galileo (we've gone twice), and other white tablecloth restaurants.

I have a question for the restauranteurs -- as highlighted in your article, certain chefs simply do not want to cater to vegetarians, which is their prerogative. The other reason often cited is business reasons. I'm curious -- does it cost much more to offer a vegetarian entree on the menu than I realize and does it outweigh losing the business of the vegetarian's dining companions who may not be vegetarian?

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As a consumer with money to spend, I demand that every single restaurant I walk into prepare any dish I like, the way I like it -- not as they think it should be prepared. It is, after all, MY MONEY. Who are they to tell me what I will eat and how I will eat it? Chefs, make sure your kitchens are always stocked with items not on the regular menu so that you can whip up something at a moment's notice based upon my needs!

Seriously people, if a restaurant does not offer what you like to eat, then choose to dine at restaurants that do cater to your tastes. All this article did was prove once again why I admire the men and women who choose to work in the restaurant business. Most restaurants DO offer alternatives, but they often seemed to be slammed for not offering ENOUGH variation from the items they prepare that are already variations from their planned menus. While one person would be happy with portobellos and vegetable combinations of many kinds, with pastas etc., someone else claims those items are uninspired. Seems like a winless situation.

I think I'll go to Vegetate and order a hamburger...

Edited by Camille-Beau
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My initial reading of the article left me with the impression of a whining 5 year old and resulted in the magazine being tossed across the room. The second reading this morning left a slightly more favorable impression. I liked the reviews, but the back story turned me off.

You self-selected into a tiny minority (5%) and found a minority -- 2941, Asia Nora and Komi -- of fancy restaurants, probably about 5%, that serve your needs. So what's the problem? My thoughts run mainly to  "You made your bed, now lie in it".

It's as if I decided I would only eat chicken and then got pissed that so few restaurants did it well (and few do).

:lol: How about this?

PS- Where do you get off calling Ray's a fancy place? :huh:

The author sounds like a “whining five year old” so you respond by throwing the magazine across the room?

The point of the article was the experience of one “self-selected” vegetarian in the DC. Many articles have been written by someone searching out the best steak or fries or whatnot in a given area. This is nothing new. I don’t think the author was “pissed” at all, actually he was quite comical in bemoaning the fact that DC area restaurants aren’t as geared toward the vegetarian minority as other areas. To me, it sounds like you’re the one who is “pissed”.

I’m not sure what your link is referring to. Did you want to say that vegetables indeed do have a backstory and the author was remiss for not knowing that?

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2 course meal from menu on Palena website (OK I realize it's Winter 2003 menu, just making a point that you can find enough veggie stuff to make a meal)

ROASTED RED AND CHIOGGIA BEETS

In a salad with horseradish, lime and cumin

GNOCCHI

Potato gnocchi with roasted endive, turnips and black truffle

Shaved Pecorino cheese

(Ruta's gnocchi are legendary and enough for a main course, or just ask for a double order)

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Well, I didn’t give up my right to dine when I decided to go meatless nearly 20 years ago—

When did they add the right to dine out to the constitution?

I find it interesting that your best meal was when it most resembled meat. Just about as odd as those fake tofu turkeys.

I feel sorry for you, I really do. But if the economic impetus for more vegitarian options was there, we would see it in the marketplace.

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The author sounds like a “whining five year old” so you respond by throwing the magazine across the room?

The point of the article was the experience of one “self-selected” vegetarian in the DC. Many articles have been written by someone searching out the best steak or fries or whatnot in a given area. This is nothing new. I don’t think the author was “pissed” at all, actually he was quite comical in bemoaning the fact that DC area restaurants aren’t as geared toward the vegetarian minority as other areas. To me, it sounds like you’re the one who is “pissed”.

I guess I failed to see the comedy that you did. Yes, I was pissed in that I found it an unlikeable piece of writing. Because the author took the time to come here, I gave it a second chance and disliked it somewhat less.

I’m not sure what your link is referring to. Did you want to say that vegetables indeed do have a backstory and the author was remiss for not knowing that?

Yes, exactly.

Edited by JPW
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I do have an issue with the criticism (lower-case "c") of Eve in the article--the thoughts the author has on the restaurant's experience ("served with a ceremoniousness more suited to the delivery of a papal bull. I staggered into the night nearly four hours after my reservation time") have nothing to do with the fact he had a meatless meal--if the author was a meatatarian, he'd likely have the same feelings.

It may be interesting that he finds the Tasting Room experience to be long and drawn out, but it's not germane to the thrust of his article. But then again, if that's how he feels about that rhythm of dining, it would've been no help to consider Maestro or Citronelle, either.

ETA: John Krinn can cook. And the Vidalia Blue Plate can be verrrry good.

Edited by jparrott
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Wow. I had no idea that Adam Smith and Ayn Rand had so many screen names here. The article is just a comment on what it is like to belong to a -- yes, self-selected -- minority.

But, to Adam Smith, I say that I would not classify the restaurant market as a particularly efficient one. In any event, I don't think the author was arguing that the fine dining restaurant market should be regulated into submission. I took the question about "deserving" a seat at the table as more of a cultural question, not a question about compelling private enterprise to do something it doesn't want to.

And to Ayn Rand, I say that the fact that someone has made his or her bed doesn't make it uninteresting or unimportant to learn about the experience of lying in it.

It is okay to express frustration about one's lot, even if it resulted from choice. It is, for instance, okay to bemoan the industry's unfriendliness to children that you chose to have. It is okay to discuss the fact that your preferred dessert is chocolate but your favorite restaurant didn't serve it last night. It is okay to complain about the fact that the suburb in which you chose to live has no decent restaurants. I don't know why this expression of frustration is any different.

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Part of your piece keys on area high-end kitchens - you mentioned Restaurant Eve, CityZen, and 2941 - but you didn't mention the vegetarian tasting menus at Gerard's Place, Citronelle, Maestro, or Inn at Little Washington.  Have you tried them, and what did you think? 

I just talked with Mark Slater, and I stand corrected: Citronelle does not have a vegetarian tasting menu. However, Mark told me they "always do a great job" with vegetarians, providing off-the-menu, made-to-order dishes which are "always interesting." So, no tasting menu, but keep Citronelle on your to-do list.

Also, as of this week, Gerard's Place has changed its entire format, so I can't promise there's a vegetarian tasting menu anymore, although there was the last time I went.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I don't know why this expression of frustration is any different.
Expressing frustration about the lack of vegetarian dining options is acceptable but expecting all restaurants conform to the needs of this group is not. Edited by Camille-Beau
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I thought it was a interesting, well-written, funny article (and this is from someone who has yet to find a body part he doesn't like to eat).

I did think the Eve criticism was a little off-base though. It seemed to be more about the experience than the food. When I eat at Eve or Maestro etc if I don't "stagger into the night nearly four hours after my reservation time", and am not served "with a ceremoniousness more suited to the delivery of a papal bull" I'm kinda dissapointed to be honest - meals like these are special events (at least for me) and I like the theatrics and the pacing of a 'blowout' meal.

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No, the restaurant market is not an efficient one. But in the case of catering to this kind of market, it's a hyper-sensitive one. How many veg plates should a chef project when he orders? Strange veggies go bad just as strange meat does when the floor doesn't sell enough rabbit. That's why advance warning is so important. I have several wheat-allergic friends, and I would never set up a serious meal with them without plenty of advance warning.

But that works for 2941, Vidalia, CityZen, and the like and not necessarily for more casual places. But you know, more casual places' meat entrees aren't all that interesting or unique either.

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Wow.  I had no idea that Adam Smith and Ayn Rand had so many screen names here.  The article is just a comment on what it is like to belong to a -- yes, self-selected -- minority.

But, to Adam Smith, I say that I would not classify the restaurant market as a particularly efficient one.  In any event, I don't think the author was arguing that the fine dining restaurant market should be regulated into submission.  I took the question about "deserving" a seat at the table as more of a cultural question, not a question about compelling private enterprise to do something it doesn't want to.

And to Ayn Rand, I say that the fact that someone has made his or her bed doesn't make it uninteresting or unimportant to learn about the experience of lying in it.

It is okay to express frustration about one's lot, even if it resulted from choice.  It is, for instance, okay to bemoan the industry's unfriendliness to children that you chose to have.  It is okay to discuss the fact that your preferred dessert is chocolate but your favorite restaurant didn't serve it last night.  It is okay to complain about the fact that the suburb in which you chose to live has no decent restaurants.  I don't know why this expression of frustration is any different.

If you are likening me to Ayn Rand, sir (madam?) I shall see you at dawn!

If you are likening me to Adam Smith, (after Gastreaux stops laughing), I will merely point out that it was in recent memory that Thai, Ethiopian, Sushi, salumi platters, mini-burgers, "Upscale Chains" and delivery pizzas were relatively rare in this burg, now it is difficult to swing a dead cat without whacking one of these establishments upside their metaphorical heads.

I do agree with you in that I enjoy a good rant, which I thought this one was.

In addition, picking out a single line and running with it is a habit that Washingtonians acquire as easily as Londoners learn to carry an umbrella, but an unlikeable one and unfair.

Besides, the right to dine is indeed an unaliable one -- part of "pursuit of happiness."

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Expressing frustration about the lack of vegetarian dining options is acceptable but expecting all restaurants conform to the needs of this group is not.

Yeah! Because one guy writing a magazine article is gonna totally change how restauranteurs do business in Washington. :lol:

When I eat at Eve or Maestro etc if I don't "stagger into the night nearly four hours after my reservation time", and am not served "with a ceremoniousness more suited to the delivery of a papal bull" I'm kinda dissapointed to be honest - meals like these are special events (at least for me) and I like the theatrics and the pacing of a 'blowout' meal.

I disagree. The theatrical mutual masturbation of the tasting menu always leaves me cold, if not hungry. But I am in the minority here.

Edit: well said, Spiral Stairs:

And to Ayn Rand, I say that the fact that someone has made his or her bed doesn't make it uninteresting or unimportant to learn about the experience of lying in it.
Edited by Heather
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Wow.  I had no idea that Adam Smith and Ayn Rand had so many screen names

And to Ayn Rand, I say that the fact that someone has made his or her bed doesn't make it uninteresting or unimportant to learn about the experience of lying in it.

It is okay to express frustration about one's lot, even if it resulted from choice.  It is, for instance, okay to bemoan the industry's unfriendliness to children that you chose to have.  It is okay to discuss the fact that your preferred dessert is chocolate but your favorite restaurant didn't serve it last night.  It is okay to complain about the fact that the suburb in which you chose to live has no decent restaurants.  I don't know why this expression of frustration is any different.

Expressing frustration about the lack of vegetarian dining options is acceptable but expecting all restaurants conform to the needs of this group is not.

If you are likening me to Ayn Rand, sir (madam?)  I shall see you at dawn!

They said it better and before I was able.

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A common feature of discussions of vegetarians in restaurants is that they depart the realm of business and cooking for the land of "ought." 

That it is good business to cater to vegetarians is, to an extent, for the market to decide.  There is already movement towards greater variety and and quality in acarnivorous cooking, we'll see how far it goes.  If there really is more pent-up veggo-demand, someone will figure how to tap it.  If there's more smoke than fire on this particular grill, then choices will remain limited.  We'll see.

That vegetarian cooking is often unimaginitive and trite is virtually inarguable, though that is a failing that extends into the realm of omnivority.  My next article is titled "My Friend the Tuna Carpaccio."  Again, if people demand creative vegetarian cooking (by ordering it, not by writing about it) chefs will get the message soon enough. 

But, the argument that restaurants "ought" to serve vegetarian food is prima facie absurd -- any more than they "ought" to have any other category of cooking on the menu: vegan, Tandoori, Atkins "sanwiches" or raw food...whatever.  And while I dislike chefs who are so convinced of their own genius that they refuse to change a sauce stroke of their edible masterpieces, asking for a special order in the middle of busy service is a asking a good deal.

I read the article more as a frustrated rant (and also to get ideas for when my friend Beth comes over; her article: "My Friend Charles and His Goddam Portabellos") more than a cry of entitlement, and enjoyed it.  But the fact is, most vegetarians have chosen to become vegetarians. If that limits their dining, it's not our problem.

That being said, I would like to see more and better vegetarian offerings, on general principal, and I think a little more attention from a few more chefs could start a virtuous (though, let us not get into a discussion of whether or not vegeterians are more virtuous) circle:  better vegetables, more demand, more attention, better vegetables....

I think we agree more than disagree. But I would disagree about lumping vegetarians in with vegans, fructarians, and other people who have self-selected themselves completely out of mainstream eating. Vegan offerings at the restaurants we're talking about are rare, whereas lacto-ovo veg dishes are fairly common. The limitation is by and large not on where we can eat, but in the execution and variety of the dishes served to us. I more respect a chef who says, no, I can't do that for you, it's outside my tradition, than I do one who says, yes, I can do something for you, and then it's a plate of vegetables in butter every single time.

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Expressing frustration about the lack of vegetarian dining options is acceptable but expecting all restaurants conform to the needs of this group is not.

I did the first, but not the second. If you read the piece, I think you'll see that.

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You self-selected into a tiny minority (5%) and found a minority -- 2941, Asia Nora and Komi -- of fancy restaurants, probably about 5%, that serve your needs. So what's the problem? My thoughts run mainly to  "You made your bed, now lie in it".

It's as if I decided I would only eat chicken and then got pissed that so few restaurants did it well (and few do).

I'd disagree that 5 percent is a tiny minority, as would Al Gore. I'd also disagree that I self-selected into a group that presupposes boring, monotonous dining. Certainly, most of the DC chefs quoted in the article's sidebar agree that veg eating can be interesting. Too bad their cooking often doesn't bear that out.

The chicken-eating analogy is specious because (a) there's no recognized group like that (if there is, email me so I can pitch a feature on them to the New Yorker), and ( :lol: lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat just one kind of vegetable. I take the chefs at their word: The majority have both the desire and the skill to do right by us. So do it!

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QUOTE(Camille-Beau @ Mar 2 2006, 11:05 AM)

Expressing frustration about the lack of vegetarian dining options is acceptable but expecting all restaurants conform to the needs of this group is not.

I did the first, but not the second. If you read the piece, I think you'll see that.

Contradiction:
I take the chefs at their word: The majority have both the desire and the skill to do right by us. So do it!

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The chicken-eating analogy is specious because (a) there's no recognized group like that (if there is, email me so I can pitch a feature on them to the New Yorker), and ( :lol: lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat just one kind of vegetable. I take the chefs at their word: The majority have both the desire and the skill to do right by us. So do it!

Chefs are not freewheeling arteestes stuck at a loft creating masterpieces while a Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike hurries upstairs with a fancy capuccino maker. They are professionals working in a business generating a profit margin that should enable them to at least buy drinkies for Gwyneth Paltrow lookalikes (we all look better after the midnight shift) after they're done with service.

If 60% of the tickets coming into the kitchen read "steak frites, medium rare," I would argue that the chef should either channel his desire and skill into slinging steak frites, medium rare, or go find himself another place to work.

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The brouhaha resulting from the article confirmed what the author set out to say: The DC area is not in league yet w/other major cities (NYC/London/LA/Austin) in acknowledging and accepting 5% of the population (annoying self-selected ones though they may be). We’re all on this board because we love to eat out and want to continue to do so in newer and greater ways. Catering to vegetarians can only increase our dining options. The article has some statements that I believe were written tongue in cheek but are being taken very seriously.

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The question seems largely a theoretical one: Can the Chef Himself design a vegetarian entree so hot that it will win over two or three otherwise meat-eaters on a given night?

Because other than that, the numbers don't seem to pan out. Ok, 5% isn't a tiny minority, but what percentage of that is eating out on a given night, and what percentage of THAT is going to be in your restaurant, all things being equal? (Yes...a higher percentage if you were more conscientious about your vegetarian menu...I know...) Pleasing the vegetarians alone isn't going to make up for the lost prep time, veggies going bad in the walk-in, space in the walk-in that could be going to things you KNOW are going to sell, etc etc (Yes, that's phrased in a terribly pessimistic way but...if you don't sell, that was a loss in every respect). The vegetarian offerings have to be appealing enough to earn their keep winning over the odd (and I do mean odd) carnivore a couple times a week, and if a genuine vegetarian rolls in, so much the better!

That's why vegetarian entrees at such an enlightened establishment are going to be so good...they were designed for people who eat meat! Would such an entree be spiritually tainted? I think that's for the courts to decide. Obviously this would be a win for the restaurant in the long run. Word would spread through the lentil collectives and whatnot, vegetarian business and goodwill would increase, and the whole situation would be more sustainable. Not to mention a lasting place in Posterity for getting omnivores to pass up the delicious, delicious meat once in a while. In all, vegetarians sound like a tough group to please, and the barriers to success are high.

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a good number of posts in this thread come off as "I'm not in this group therefore their concerns don't matter". It's all so self-focused that it's almost sickening. The reality is that yes, vegetarians do make a small but growing segment of the population. The other reality is that they also don't travel in packs and don't segregate themselves from the majority of society, so having a stable of choices for groups is just good sound business. I honestly wonder how many of you that posted negatively here ever think about the other side of the coin. And yes, for the record, I eat meat. I am also married to a vegetarian and I can definitely sympathize and relate.

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I have a long-term solution to all societal problems:  more restaurants should begin offering entrees using vegetables as the primary component, and the protein as the secondary component.
I am in no way a vegetarian, but I would be thrilled if more restaurants would do this. Although I love meat, I usually can only eat a small portion, so I very rarely order a meat-based entree. I would love to see meat used more frequently as a secondary component so that those of us who would prefer to eat small quantities of meat would have that option without having to stick to appetizers or tasting menus.
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a good number of posts in this thread come off as "I'm not in this group therefore their concerns don't matter". It's all so damn wasp'y that it's almost sickening. The reality is that yes, vegetarians do make a small but growing segment of the population. The other reality is that they also don't travel in packs and don't segregate themselves from the majority of society, so having a stable of choices for groups is just good sound business. I honestly wonder how many of you that posted negatively here ever think about the other side of the coin. And yes, for the record, I eat meat. I am also married to a vegetarian and I can definitely sympathize and relate.

Um, ok. I think it is more of the I am special, I must be pleased mantra that really bothers me. If they are a growing segment of the population then the market will change and veggie friendly plates will be more readily available.

Restaurants are personal businesses in which the owner(s) put a ton of hard work and time trying to please as many people as possible and still try to make a living.

And to the post above, is Austin, Texas really a more veggie friendly city than DC? Not doubting, just amazed.

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I'd disagree that 5 percent is a tiny minority, as would Al Gore. I'd also disagree that I self-selected into a group that presupposes boring, monotonous dining. Certainly, most of the DC chefs quoted in the article's sidebar agree that veg eating can be interesting. Too bad their cooking often doesn't bear that out.

The chicken-eating analogy is specious because (a) there's no recognized group like that (if there is, email me so I can pitch a feature on them to the New Yorker), and ( :lol: lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat just one kind of vegetable. I take the chefs at their word: The majority have both the desire and the skill to do right by us. So do it!

A) 5% may not be tiny, but it is small.

B.) I never said it "presupposes boring, monotonous dining", I said that you found about 3 "White Linen" restaurants that do it right (in your estimation), a roughly estimated 5% of ALL restaurants in this class. An even larger proportion of your sample.

C) I disagree that it is specious. Fine, not quite as limiting, but how about observant Muslims or kosher Jews?

Edited by JPW
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Um, ok.  I think it is more of the I am special, I must be pleased mantra that really bothers me.  If they are a growing segment of the population then the market will change and veggie friendly plates will be more readily available.

Restaurants are personal businesses in which the owner(s) put a ton of hard work and time trying to please as many people as possible and still try to make a living.

And to the post above, is Austin, Texas really a more veggie friendly city than DC?  Not doubting, just amazed.

Austin has seven all-vegetarian restaurants to start:

http://www.vegoutaustin.com/archives/cuisi...all_vegetarian/

However, they’re not the white tablecloth types that the author was pin pointing.

DC has: Amma Vegetarian Kitchen, Nirvana, Soul Vegetarian & Vegetate

Outskirts include: Vegetable Garden, Yuan Fu, Sunflower & Woodlands

Top Veg US Cities:

San Francisco

Seattle

New York

Portland

Honolulu

Atlanta

Minneapolis

Orlando

Asheville

Houston

Again, the author is just discussing dining in white tablecloth restaurants, not ethnic joints or funky dives.

The “I am special. I must be pleased” mantra, always horrible, definitely does not apply solely to vegetarians. Quite the opposite, it’s a groovy scene.

:lol:

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Top Veg US Cities:

San Francisco

Seattle

New York

Portland

Honolulu

Atlanta

Minneapolis

Orlando

Asheville

Houston

I was following this list saying to myself -- makes sense, makes sense, ..., and then I came to Houston and thought :lol:

PS - You should add Udupi (Indian in Langley Park) to your list

Edit to add: Also Minneapolis :huh:

Edited by JPW
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And to the post above, is Austin, Texas really a more veggie friendly city than DC?  Not doubting, just amazed.

Austin is a huge college town; like most other college towns (including, for instance, Fredericksburg, Virginia) it has a greater preponderance of vegetarian-friendly establishments than other places. SAMMY T'S!!!

Ahem, sorry. :lol:

As a (mostly) vegetarian for taste/texture/health reasons, I have to say that I agree that what most non-vegetarians take exception to is the rather sniffy and self-righteous tone many vegetarians-for-a-cause adopt in general towards other people, and towards the restaurant industry in particular. Granted, in most restaurants the vegetarian entree options suck, and unfortunately do project the message that the establishment is just trying to get the vegetarian crowd off their backs. Hell, Burger King offers better vegetarian meal options than a lot of the 'white tablecloth' crowd in this area.

But...

When I go to a restaurant that is not explicitly vegetarian, I assume the following things: my food has been in contact with surfaces that were also used to cook meat, any dishes will probably be ovo-lacto, many of the vegetable options will have been prepared using chicken stock, and the best vegetable dishes will be either appetizers or side dishes.

While it would behoove the dining public if the restaurant industry were to start offering healthier options in general, including interesting vegetarian entrees and the use of vegetable rather than meat stocks in many cases, no one individual restaurant should be under the onus to try to cater to the wide array of tastes within the vegetarian community.

To wit, vegans won't even eat honey because it's a product that came from an animal. Some vegetarians want dishes that are as close to meat as they can get. Other 'veg-heads' get offended by the use of meat substitutes. Some vegetarians are explicitly forbidden by their religion to consume any dishes that even use spicing similar to those in meat preparations. And every time you cater to one of these groups, someone decides they're being left out and will complain. I've even seen it happen to vegetarian restaurants.

Just like I don't expect to go to an Indian restaurant and order a ham curry, I don't go to a steakhouse prepared to have a conniption because I have to order a salad and vegetable sides if I want to avoid meat. If a particular restaurant truly offers nothing I'll eat, I'm always free to let them know, but I'm pretty sure most restaurants take those notices about as seriously as the people who won't eat there because they carry Pepsi products.

Edited by Principia
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Um, ok.  I think it is more of the I am special, I must be pleased mantra that really bothers me.  If they are a growing segment of the population then the market will change and veggie friendly plates will be more readily available.

Restaurants are personal businesses in which the owner(s) put a ton of hard work and time trying to please as many people as possible and still try to make a living.

And to the post above, is Austin, Texas really a more veggie friendly city than DC?  Not doubting, just amazed.

Or the mantra of "I'm different therefore it'd be nice if I was considered too" would be a more accurate represenation. And how can the market grow if there aren't choices to begin with? How do you have a market impact if there is no product to consume?
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Is this one of those situations where a call in advance of your visit would be a good idea, particularly if you are going to one of those "white tablecloth" places?

I haven't read the article yet, but it does seem that chefs at some of the restaurants mentioned would certainly have the ingredients and the skill to come up with some interesting and creative (non-portobello/risotto/all sides) vegetarian options. However, in the middle of a busy dinner service, working with an already carefully planned menu, it might be a bit much to ask for on-the-fly creativity.

To me, this seems in some way to fall into the category of special accommodation. Accommodation that is much better handled with a little bit of advance planning than on-the-spot, much like checking to see about access for a disabled guest, or calling about a severe food allergy. The response would certainly be an indication of how receptive the kitchen is to that kind of request, and therefore whether or not it's worth a visit.

Edited by goldenticket
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I was following this list saying to myself -- makes sense, makes sense, ..., and then I came to Houston and thought :lol:

PS - You should add Udupi (Indian in Langley Park) to your list

Edit to add: Also Minneapolis  :huh:

Who knew America's 2nd Fattest city had so many veggie restaurants:

http://www.houstoneats.com/Title%20Bar/Fol.../Vegetarian.htm

They sound really good too!

I dont get Minneapolis either. If I lived there it would be fried cheese curds all day everyday.

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What the heck is this supposed to mean?

I would point out that as uninteresting as people on this board might find the (to my mind overly-picky) complaints about the concerns of the particular vegetarian diner in question, there are lots of things that people complain about on this board that other people find irrelevant or trivial. For instance, I couldn't care less about whether Restaurant X fails to offer/charges too much for Alcoholic Beverage Y - because I don't drink. But I don't trail around after people with these complaints telling them they're not entitled to their opinion because Restaurant X has better things to worry about.

Edited by Principia
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Or the mantra of "I'm different therefore it'd be nice if I was considered too" would be a more accurate represenation. And how can the market grow if there aren't choices to begin with? How do you have a market impact if there is no product to consume?

Well first off, there are choices no matter how limited. How about discussing things with various restaurant owners? I know I have inquired about the lack of a variety of offal dishes on many menus, only to find out that they just don't sell enough to have them on the regular menu.

Of the dishes that are available if sales of those dishes increase, the chef will most likely take notice, especially if they care about staying in business. Then thinking about why, they may update, add, modify things to the new market segment.

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A) 5% may not be tiny, but it is small.

B.) I never said it "presupposes boring, monotonous dining", I said that you found about 3 "White Linen" restaurants that do it right (in your estimation), a roughly estimated 5% of ALL restaurants in this class. An even larger proportion of your sample.

C) I disagree that it is specious. Fine, not quite as limiting, but how about observant Muslims or kosher Jews?

Having spent a great deal of time in statistics class, 5% is a fine sample size (national polls, of course, use much smaller percentages). Having spent a great deal of time on this board, I suspect very few of us have been to more than 5% of the region's restaurants, but many of us have a reasonably good grasp of what's out there on that sample size.

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I haven't read the article yet, but it does seem that chefs at some of the restaurants mentioned would certainly have the ingredients and the skill to come up with some interesting and creative (non-portobello/risotto/all sides) vegetarian options.  However, in the middle of a busy dinner service, working with an already carefully planned menu, it might be a bit much to ask for on-the-fly creativity.

I don't think the article is saying that someone should be able to request a special, vegetarian dish off the menu with no notice (nor am I saying that should be the case.) The question is why doesn't the vegetarian entree that's on the menu at many white tablecloth restaurants showcase the chef's skills, which come through in their meat entrees? I agree with you (and I believe the article states and Jonathan Krinn's comments indicate) that it seems chefs would have the skill. I thought the article was an interesting review of the vegetarian entrees at white tablecloth restaurants (as someone mentioned, kinda like a review of all the mini burgers in town, or whatnot).

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The market for vegetarian menu items is greater than the 5% of Americans who identify themselves as vegetarians. As suggested by Lackadaisi's post above, many meat-eating diners look for but don't find appealing vegetarian options. The Post recently covered the growth of "flexitarianism," or the practice of consuming at least 80% of one's calories from vegetable matter.

A friend of mine recently identified himself as a flexitarian. I thought he had made it up and I wanted to slap him silly.

I would not be nearly as quick as many on this thread to assume that the restaurant industry has accurately identified and satisfied the demand for vegetarian food.

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Having spent a great deal of time in statistics class, 5% is a fine sample size (national polls, of course, use much smaller percentages).  Having spent a great deal of time on this board, I suspect very few of us have been to more than 5% of the region's restaurants, but many of us have a reasonably good grasp of what's out there on that sample size.

Sample size has nothing to do with percentages and everything to do with the variance in the population and the rarity of occurance of each outcome. The total amount of variance will tell you what size sample will give you a standard deviation that is acceptable, the greater the variance, the greater the needed sample size needed to estimate to a high degree of confidence (generally 2 standard deviations or .05 percent). The rarer the event the greater the needed sample size. National political surveys can get an estimate that is +/- 3 % with a sample of about 1500, because about 50% of the population votes dem and about 50% vote rep. Not much variance and about equally common.

Anyways, my 5% (actually the author's number) refers to the proportion of vegetarians in the population.

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